The Suffolk – ‘a no-nonsense breed’

The Suffolk is an outstanding mutton sheep breed that can add real value to sheep farming in the country, according to award-winning Suffolk breeders Abraham and Carel Greyling.

Carel Greyling and is father, Abraham, own the Carmar Suffolk Stud and run it on 200ha of their farm Stroomdrift on the banks of the Vaal River near Makwassie in the North West. Although the stud was established only in 2004, the Greylings have been breeding Suffolk sheep for many years. Abraham and his brother, Christo, ran a Suffolk flock from 1976. This flock was subsequently split up, resulting in Abraham and Carel forming their stud.

Their business consists of a transport company and the sheep stud, which consists of 65 breeding ewes. Carel plans to expand the stud to 300 ewes, breed it up from his current genetic base and buy in genetics from carefully selected breeders. “My breeding philosophy is to breed hardy, adaptable and fertile sheep,” he explains.

“A quality stud isn’t built up overnight. We select the best possible breeding animals and genetic lines to incorporate in our flock. That takes time.”

Excellence
Due to the meticulous selection of breeding animals and careful pairing, the stud has excelled in the show ring. It produced the Reserve Senior Campion Ram (284110005), Reserve Junior Campion Ewe (336130012) and Supreme Champion Ewe (2841200003) at the 2014 Suffolk National Championships at the Royal Show in Pietermaritzburg. It
also won the Interbreed Breeders Group Class.

Father and son are serious about animal recording and plan to start their own on-farm Phase C testing later this year. The tests will commence when the ram lambs are weaned at about 100 days. The Carmar flock’s average daily gain is 358g, with an average feed conversion ratio of 5,08.

“This indicates excellent growth,” Abraham says. “Top-quality carcasses and a slaughtering percentage of as high as
56% for Grades A2 and A3 makes it an ideal mutton breed. And as a bonus, it produces marbled mutton.”

Carel, also vice-president of the Suffolk Sheep Breeders’ Society of SA, says the Carmar breeding philosophy is to breed well-muscled rams with the correct conformation. Approximately 90% of the stud’s rams are sold to commercial sheep farmers, most out of hand. The rams are active breeders. When mated with Merino or first-cross ewes, the resulting wool is comparable to the best cross-bred wool. It is free of kemp and is renowned for its durability.

The progeny of crosses between Suffolk and white-faced sheep breeds invariably have speckled faces, making it easy for a breeder to judge his rams’ performance. South African Suffolk rams are also well-adapted to heat and have proven to sire supreme prime lambs. Suffolk sheep excel in crossbreeding and the weaned lambs are known for their growth.

Carel with a potential Carmar breed ram. Born on 27 August, it shows the exceptional growth of the breed.

The lambs’ small heads and narrow shoulders, coupled with low birth weights, virtually eliminate lambing problems. Lambs mature early and are market-ready from as early as nine to 12 weeks. The average birth weight is 2,85kg, the 42-day weight is 15,1kg and the 100-day weaner weight is 53,2kg. The lambs are weaned at between 90 days and 100 days to reduce stress on the ewes.

“The Suffolk is one of the few sheep breeds to produce lambs that can be marketed directly from their mothers,” he adds. “The ewes are excellent mothers. Our flock achieved a 180% lambing rate per ewe mated in the past year. A 26kg carcass graded as Grade A2 or Grade A3 is not uncommon. The Suffolk ewe’s strong maternal drive means that we seldom encounter problems with black-backed jackal or caracal,” he adds.

Grazing
The stud grazes on sweetveld and Smuts finger grass pasture, the latter constituting at least 60% of the forage. The farm is divided into 14 camps from 10ha to 15ha in size, stocked at 1,5 MLU/ ha. The veld is grazed rotationally, and rapid rotation ensures sufficient winter forage. The flock has permanent access to a winter lick and additional fodder is supplied only during adverse conditions.

For parasite control and prevalent diseases such as blue tongue, blue udder and Clostridium infection, the Greylings follow an animal health programme developed by local vet, Dr Gerrie Kemp.

Breeding
Carel and Abraham have a single breeding season at Stroomdrift – from mid-December to the end of February, in single sire flocks with 40 ewes to a mature ram and 30 ewes to a young ram. More than one season would mean a deluge of lambs and management problems.

“It also keeps the ewes in good condition and enables them to rear strong lambs,” says Carel.

This year, he plans to artificially inseminate with frozen semen from some of their past top-performing rams.

“It’s difficult to say how many ewes will be inseminated, but it will be a significant percentage in order to reintroduce these rams’ genetics. Our gene pool is based on genetics from breeders such as the late Eduard van Rensburg, Albert Kotze and Charles Malherbe.”

Carel says that the Suffolk is one of the most underestimated mutton breeds in South Africa, and has the potential to add enormous value to the breeding industry. “It has all the characteristics needed for sheep farming under extensive conditions, including hardiness, adaptability, growth and carcass quality. As a bonus, the black skin and feet makes it highly resistant to foot rot,” he explains.

Future plans
Carel and Abraham agree that the Suffolk also has much to offer sheep breeders in neighbouring countries. They have their sights set on exporting as soon as feasible.

“But there’s no such thing as cutting corners in stud breeding,” Carel says. “It takes time, and the learning curve is initially steep.” He advises new breeders to learn more about the breed before setting out. “Rather start small and follow the correct process from the onset. We pay for the mistakes we make. I always encourage new breeders to choose the Suffolk – it’s a no-nonsense breed that offers maximum profit per hectare.”

Phone Carel Greyling on 082 783 7854 or email [email protected].